“Beware of an anti-male moral panic“ wrote Cathy Young shortly after the announcement that the Hollywood Mogul Harvey Weinstein had settled at least eight sexual harassment cases. As so often, Young was absolutely right. Although some ideologically-motivated attempts have been made to blame Weinstein’s politics or, inexplicably, his Jewishness for these revelations, as more and more accounts of harassment and assault have been pouring in, the finger of blame has overwhelmingly pointed at… men.
“My whole life has been marked by sexual harassment – just like all women” declared Suzanne Moore for the Guardian in response to the distressing accounts. From other sources, we learnt how rape culture made Harvey Weinstein, that Harvey Weinstein shows that rape culture is still prevalent in 2017 and what Rape Culture says about Masculinity. The problem with this is that Harvey Weinstein is neither a culture nor masculinity. He is one man who, it seems clear, was willing to use his position of power to exploit and abuse women. We can condemn the character of Weinstein. We can demand answers and the overhaul of an industry that allowed him to conceal his abuses from the public. But it must be remembered that Weinstein’s power did not reside in the American public believing that sexual abuse was acceptable. Weinstein’s position of power did not enable him to convince American society that sexual abuse was good. It enabled him to conceal his from it. Once he could do that no longer, the immediate outpouring of outrage, anger, and distress that followed cast great doubt on the claim that America is a rape culture. If we understand a rape culture to be one in which rape is glorified, condoned or excused, there is little evidence of such a culture in the responses to the revelation about Harvey Weinstein.
Nevertheless, the anti-male moral panic has certainly arrived and there is no reason to doubt that this fear is genuine. Twitter responded to the revelations with the hashtag #MeToo in which women shared their experiences of sexual harassment and assault and their anger against men.
I'll believe "not all men" when you show me one woman who hasn't been sexually harassed or discriminated against because of gender. #MeToo
— Courteny Lowe (@camlowe3) October 17, 2017
— dymphna lorcan (@saintdymphna17) October 17, 2017
Although some men also joined the hashtag with their own accounts and were supported by women,
— N (@NPCreative_AU) October 17, 2017
many tweeters, male and female, saw the need to present the Weinstein case as part of a bigger problem all men were complicit in.
Don't say you have a mother, a sister, a daughter…
Say you have a father, a brother, a son who can do better.
We all can.#MeToo
— Nick Jack Pappas (@Pappiness) October 16, 2017
This is untrue. It is unjust to the vast majority of men who commit no sexual offences and are appalled by their existence. It’s also harmful to women who are being encouraged to fear men as a sex and to regard the world as dangerous and hostile to them. It is most alarming that driving this fear is a form of feminism which ratchets up fear of men to the level of life-restricting phobia. For that reason, I have resurrected an essay I wrote last year about the dangers of androphobia and how to overcome it.
“Androphobia” is not a word in popular usage but I think it should be. It’s a far better word than “misandry” to describe the expression of fear of and aversion to men that permeates much of feminist discourse right now. Misandry is the hatred of men. Feminists who exhibit hostility towards men tell us that they do not hate men. They simply fear them and argue that hostility is a perfectly natural consequence of this which should be accepted. I think we should take them seriously and treat the problem as “androphobia” — an irrational fear which sufferers should be supported sympathetically to overcome.
The NHS tells us that “a fear becomes a phobia when you have to change your lifestyle to manage it. A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear or dread aroused by a particular object or circumstance, to the point where it severely restricts your life.” It goes on to say that whilst phobias of uncommon things such as snakes (in Britain) won’t usually affect everyday life, phobias of commonly encountered things can make it very hard to lead a normal life. Men are, of course, very commonly encountered things and therefore we should not underestimate the profound impact a fear of and aversion to them can have on the life and prospects of phobics. One counselling site says of Androphobia, “Though women who suffer from this disorder may realize that there is very little reason to be afraid of men, the fear persists, thus leading to severe, repeated anxiety around men that can often interfere with everyday activities.” Causes of androphobia are suggested to include trauma and genetics but also cultural influences which include fear-mongering. A prominent form of feminism which perpetuates fear of and aversion to men could certainly be one such influence.
Androphobic feminists insist that fear of men is not irrational and present us with statistics that 99% of serious sexual assault against adults, 75% of violent crime and 60% of domestic violence is committed by men. (Figures are more equal in relation to child abuse although men are still somewhat over-represented in most categories except infanticide, sexual assault of boys and psychological abuse of girls.) Furthermore, they tell us that these figures indicate that we have a culture which normalizes and condones violent and sexual crime against women by men and masculinity itself needs to revised. However, the vast majority of men do not commit violent and sexual crime against women, women are not the primary victims of violent crime and most sexual crime is committed by a small number of recidivist criminals. This strongly suggests that the problem is not that of cultural norms among men and far more that of a criminal minority acting against cultural norms. Violent crimes are already the most likely to be punished with a custodial sentence. Sexual offences are regarded as so heinous that there is a special register for offenders and sex offenders are so universally hated, they often have to be segregated from other serious offenders in prison for their own safety. We live in a culture in which both sexes overwhelmingly regard violent and sexual crime against women by men as abhorrent. Therefore, to regard half of the population with fear and enmity is neither warranted by statistics nor helpful.
One dominant kind of phobia is fear of things which occasionally harm people but nearly always don’t. Arachnophobia — the fear of spiders — and aviophobia — the fear of flying — are commonly treated examples of these.
100% of deaths by spider-bite are caused by spiders but the vast majority of spiders will do you no harm. If fear of spiders is affecting how you live your life, your arachnophobia needs treating.
100% of deaths by plane crash are caused by planes but the vast majority of planes do not crash. If your fear of flying limits your career and leisure opportunities, you might want to consider having your aviophobia treated.
Most violent & sexual crimes are committed by men but the vast majority of men do not commit violent and sexual crime. If fear of men is affecting how you live your life, your androphobia needs treating.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of irrational fears focuses upon realistic assessments of risk, determining reasonable precautions against it and then, having put one’s fear into perspective, living a full life. It is possible that any man a woman encounters in her daily life could violently attack and rape her but almost every such encounter results in no such thing. Dr Bruce Hubbard describes it like this, “CBT helps replace catastrophic cognitions with reasonable beliefs. When fear begins, it’s important to remind yourself to review the evidence that this is a false alarm, you are not in danger. The goal is to develop a nurturing, coaching inner voice to help stay grounded and effectively accept and cope with panicky feelings as they run their course.” The already tiny risk of violent attack can be reduced further by taking the same kind of precautions one takes against other kinds of crime and using the same kind of judgement one uses with other kinds of relationships. If we live life in constant fear and distrust of men, we could possibly reduce the risk further but at what cost? Avoiding interactions and relationships with half the population reduces the likelihood of having friends, lovers and meaningful bonds too.
When making this point I am usually presented with statistics showing that women are highly likely to be sexually assaulted or harassed in their lives and here we encounter the variety of degrees of sexual assault and I venture into dangerous waters from which I have very little chance of emerging without being branded a “rape apologist.” However, I can confirm myself to be a victim of several sexual assaults. When I was five, a man flashed at my mother and me in the forest. When I was twenty-two, a man slapped my rear as I passed him in the pub. At twenty-five, a man pulled up on a pushbike and began masturbating through his shorts and asked if I’d like to help him. When I was 40 another man flashed at me when I was walking my dog. It is a reality that sexually-motivated arseholes exist. It is a problem that sexually-motivated arseholes exist and steps should be taken both legally and socially to reduce sexually-motivated arseholish behavior.
However, I am concerned by the neurotic attempts to catastrophize non-injurious sexual assault experienced by women beyond any other form of criminal behavior of which we (and men) could become a victim. I don’t want my daughter to be told that being shown a penis, being subjected to sexual comments or experiencing a hand placed somewhere it has no right to be is a terrible trauma from which she may never recover. Even less do I want her to think this represents a society which is hostile and dangerous to her and which she should only approach with caution. I want her to know that these behaviors are unacceptable. Some of them are crimes she should report. Others indicate individuals she should avoid. They are not to be dismissed or excused. They are not the end of the world.
Presenting women’s psyches as so deeply dependent on their sexual “inviolateness” is demeaning, harmful and regressive in the true sense of the word. For me, those experiences of minor sexual assault were among a number of unpleasant and criminal things that have happened to me as someone who lives in a big city and rank below being shoved around in Central London by a group of teenage girls when I was also a teenage girl, having a shopping trolley rammed into my leg by a woman who felt I had not got out of her way fast enough (I still have a dent), being cornered by a shouting and wildly gesticulating street preacher to whom I had suggested God did not exist and having my purse stolen twice, my bike twice and my phone once. Arseholes exist. They need dealing with. I survived.
When I have said this to androphobic feminists, I have been accused of “diminishing other women’s experiences” and “dictating how women should feel.” In the sense they mean, I am not. I am aware that being shown a penis or being targeted for crude sexual suggestions or experiencing an unwanted hand intruding on intimate parts can be incredibly traumatic for women who have experienced rape or sexual violence. I do not expect them to brush off the memories and feelings this evokes. I have sat up with a family member as she experienced terrifying flashbacks of a past rape & battery after having been trapped in a train carriage with a man making sexual comments about what he’d like to do to her. I know that she was unable to go out for days and panicky on trains for weeks as a result of this and that she is still and possibly always will be initially afraid to find herself alone with an unknown man. I also know that she worked with her psychologist on processing these feelings and reactions, putting them into perspective and increasing her resilience to their effects and her independent engagement with the world generally. I have the greatest admiration for her and she would still have my sympathy and respect had she not succeeded as well as she has. If a woman is experiencing this intensity of reaction without past trauma, I am still sympathetic but this is not a proportionate reaction and psychological treatment should be sought. It is one thing to have so severe a fear reaction and feel unable to function fully and confidently in the world following an incident like this but quite another to normalize and even valorize this reaction and condemn as “victim-blaming” any attempts to advocate perspective and resilience as well as condemning such boorish & abusive behavior.
Another aspect of phobia is the fear of things which are quite likely to happen at some point but which is built up out of all proportion to their actual awfulness. Emetophobia — the fear of vomiting — and sociophobia — the fear of being criticized or mocked in public — are very commonly treated phobias which are good examples of these. Sufferers suffer much more from the horrified anticipation of these things happening and from restricting their lives in attempts to prevent these from happening than they do from them actually happening.
You are likely to vomit at some point in your life. If your fear of vomiting causes you to restrict your intake of food and fluids and avoid being around people in case any of them have a stomach virus, your emetophobia needs treating.
You are likely to be criticized or laughed at in public at some point in your life and experience shame or embarrassment. If your fear of being criticized or laughed at causes you to avoid being around people in work or social environments, your sociophobia needs treating.
You are likely to encounter a boorish or abusive man who will make sexual comments, attempt to grope you or show his genitalia at some point in your life. If your fear of such men causes you to avoid being around the entire male half of the population, trusting men, working with men, having relationships with them and speaking of them without hostility and negative generalisations, your androphobia needs treating.
Unfortunately, it is probably necessary to say again that “This is likely to happen” does not mean “It’s OK that this happens.” It’s not OK that sexual abusers exist or that muggers do or drunk-drivers or credit-card fraudsters. That’s why these things are illegal. Until we find a way to control the behavior of everyone else in the world, we can only take sensible precautions and report crimes if we become a victim of them. If we live our lives in fear & hostility of a whole sex, we become victims of ourselves too.
I am aware that I will be accused of “victim-blaming” by suggesting that androphobic feminists should in any way moderate their attitudes towards men and by suggesting these attitudes are unhealthy, unreasonable and inconsistent with reality. It will be said that I place the responsibility for male behavior with women. I do not. I dispute the argument that sexual violence or abusiveness or boorishness defines “male behavior” because of the abundant evidence that they don’t, and I think they will be better addressed by addressing the behavior rather than maleness. I will also be accused of caring more about men than women. This is not true either. In the same way that “men” are not defined by sexual violence & boorish behavior, “women” are not defined by fearfulness of and aversion to men. Androphobic feminists are a subset of feminists who are themselves a tiny minority of women (9% in the UK). I suspect the vast majority of women already know the androphobic narrative to be unhealthy, unreasonable and inconsistent with reality.
Ultimately, although I am concerned by the effect of this hostile and unjust representation of maleness on men, it is the disempowerment of women by this fear which worries me most. Although small, the androphobic feminist voice has power in the universities which will almost certainly be attended by the women we hope will share with men the job of running our world. This becomes less likely the more they are encouraged to feel fearful of and hostile to half of its inhabitants and that any encounter with an aggressive or sexually harassing man is an unendurable trauma that may never be overcome. Feminists of my generation and my mother’s have worked for and celebrated the dismantling of perceptions of women as fragile, fearful, hysterical and unable to cope with the harsh realities of life. We have argued and demonstrated that women are emotionally strong and fully capable of engaging in leadership roles in the public sphere. I fear that the shift to what has been dubbed “fainting couch feminism” has the potential to undermine this progress. Phobias are catching. Let’s respond to them with sympathy but also with strength, resilience, evidence and above all, reason.